The Bengals’ offensive line has had some struggles this season, but over the past few weeks they have shown improvement.
Offensive line coaches frequently talk about continuity. There is a lot of communication involved in blocking and not all of it is verbal, so keeping the same 5 guys out there week in and week out gives you an advantage.
Outside the Week 1 injury of Xavier Su’a-Filo, the Bengals have been fortunate enough to stay healthy on the offensive line this season. Unfortunately, their luck ended on Sunday. The Bengals lost arguably their two best offensive linemen in the first half of the game as left tackle Jonah Williams and center Trey Hopkins both left the game with injuries. Right tackle Bobby Hart played the majority of the game, but was injured shortly before the Bengals’ final score.
Williams was replaced by Fred Johnson and Hopkins was replaced by Billy Price. Both played well. When Hart got hurt Johnson shifted to right tackle and rookie Hakeem Adeniji came in at left tackle, playing the last 4 snaps of the game.
Although none of the injuries are considered serious, there is a possibility that Johnson, Price, and Adeniji could all get the start this weekend.
Let’s take a look at how they performed and what to look for out of them next week.
Johnson started at left tackle against the Browns in Week 17 of last season, but Myles Garrett did not play in that game. This was Johnson’s 1st live action against an elite NFL pass rusher.
In this clip he has great footwork and gets in excellent position to block Garrett. However he is too high and doesn’t have very good leverage. As a result Garrett is able to push him back on contact, but size has it’s advantages and Johnson manages to recover and anchor himself. Despite Garrett’s efforts to clear Johnson’s hands, Johnson keeps coming back.
This was not a perfect rep, but Johnson fought against one of the league’s best. He shows huge potential on this play. If he can bend his knees improving his leverage, Johnson could be a very good tackle.
Before we talk about the offensive line on this play, let’s take a moment to basic in the glory that is Giovani Bernard stepping up and taking on that blitz. Wow!
Okay, back to the line.
In this clip Johnson reaches too much trying to make the block on Garrett. As a result he is off balance and unable to adjust when Garrett spins to the inside.
Leaning into blocks and getting off balance was a big issue for Johnson when he saw action last year. He repeats that mistake here, but as the next clip demonstrates, he showed improvement as the game went on.
Here he shows much better balance and when Olivier Vernon tries the spin move, Johnson is all over it.
This is an excellent job by Johnson. It starts with great footwork. He prevents Vernon from rushing to the outside, but he has the control to post step back inside as the Vernon makes his move. Throughout this process his feet stay in sync with his hands. He gives up a little more ground than I would like after the spin, but overall this is a great play by Johnson.
In the opening paragraphs of this article I talked about the importance of offensive line continuity and how it helps with communication during the play. This is important because you need to know how much help your teammate will need on a combo block before you release to the second level or if he is the one working up to the linebacker, how quickly your teammate will leave you alone with the defensive lineman.
It is also important when picking up pass rush stunts and twists.
As Johnson and Price entered the game, they lined up on either side of Michael Jordan, so Jordan had to work with two new people.
In this clip, the defensive end comes inside of Johnson and the defensive tackle comes outside. Johnson sticks with the end as he goes inside, Jordan tries to follow the defensive tackle around Johnson’s block, but he can’t get around the mass of humanity Johnson and the defensive end combine to form.
Joe Burrow throws a beautiful pass to Tee Higgins on the sideline, and it was not a moment too soon. The defensive end gets a hit on Burrow just after he releases the ball and the tackle is not far behind him.
If Jordan and Johnson had more experience working with each other, they may have been able to trade responsibilities on the fly.
If I am making this sound easy, I am doing a disservice to anyone who has ever played offensive line. It’s not easy. In fact, it is quite hard to make this type of adjustment between two people in a fraction of a second with each of you attempting to fend off an enormous human being.
Herein lies the value of continuity on the offensive line.
Here is another twist, but this time it gets picked up.
The defensive tackle comes to the outside. Jordan gets an initial shot on him, then passes him off to Johnson. Johnson is leaning and a little high, but we’ve already talked about how he needs to work on those things. What’s important here is that he picks up the twist.
This time Garrett loops all the way inside of Jordan.
Tight end Drew Sample slows him down with a chip. Then Price does a phenomenal job of picking up Garrett. This allows Burrow to throw a bullet to Tyler Boyd in the end zone.
Awesome job by Billy Price against Larry Ogunjobi pic.twitter.com/lWL6ldBuCy— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) October 27, 2020
Price did some very impressive things in this game.
In this clip he snaps the ball and steps to his left to block defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. The Browns are blitzing and Ogunjobi steps inside to cross Price’s face. Price steps back to his right and makes the block. This was a great adjustment and block by Price.
Bernard picks up the blitz and Burrow throws the ball to Higgins for a 1st Down.
So far I have focused on pass protection because we are all highly concerned about protecting Burrow, but now we’ll take a look at the running game.
Price does a great job on this combo block. He starts off blocking the defensive tackle along with Jordan, then works up to the linebacker.
Johnson steps a little wide and is in danger of getting a holding call, but makes his block.
Johnson looks a good on this backside combo block. He gets a hard push on the defensive tackle before working up to the backside linebacker.
Price just throws a hand in the direction of the front-side defensive tackle on his way to the second level. He engages the linebacker and drives him deep into the secondary.
Both Johnson and Price did a great job on their blocks, but the guard’s fell off of their blocks early. This again speaks to continuity and knowing how to work with the guy next to you.
I was a huge fan of Adeniji in the pre-draft process and Bengals’ legend Dave Lapham raved about him throughout training camp, but I wasn’t expecting him to be a potential starter this early. Personally, I think he could use a year in the weight room to get stronger and improve his anchor.
Adeniji was a four-year starter in college, spending the last three seasons at left tackle. He is likely more comfortable on that side, which is why Johnson moved to right tackle when Adeniji entered the game.
In this clip he engages with Vernon, but instead of bringing power from his hips, Adeniji bends at the waist and reaches for him. This allows Vernon to control the block and come off to get involved in the tackle.
Adeniji’s feet look good on this pass set and when Vernon comes inside, Adeniji steps down to meet him.
Adeniji has some great tools, but will need to take a big step forward this week in order to be counted on against the Titans.
We only got a taste of Adeniji.
An amuse-bouche, if you will.
If you’d like to see what Adeniji did in college, check out this article.
The Bengals offensive line suffered some major losses last week, but Price and Johnson were ready when they were called upon, and they shined. With Hart already declared out next week, Williams day-to-day, and Hopkins in the concussion protocol, the Bengals’ depth on the offensive line will be called upon once again this weekend.
Hopefully a week of starter’s reps in practice and more opportunities to work with the starting guard’s will allow them to build on last week’s performance.